LTE: Dreaming of Wireless Broadband

After a quick demonstration of Ericsson’s LTE base station, which boasted a throughput of 150 Mbps on download and 30 Mbps for uploads, I experienced one of those moments of technology utopia. I could see a world without wires, a life with fewer cables running into the house and no phone jacks on the wall.

Although the LTE standard is capable of the above speeds, in the real world it will likely resemble 20 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up, said Keith Shank, the man who showed off Ericsson’s LTE base station to me. But that’s still crazy fast, especially since LTE would be deployed on a much wider basis than speedy services such as FiOS (which tops out at 50 Mbps up and 20 Mbps down in some services areas).

With speeds like that, two big shifts could occur in telecommunications. The first shift is already happening as the major players launch unlimited voice plans. Suddenly it becomes moot to have a wireline telephone, and the geographic boundaries that framed a consumer’s telco provider choices are gone. If I can use my cell phone economically for voice, I can cut the cord to my landline or the digital phone I have from my cable provider.

You can rightly argue that unless you have great coverage indoors, then cutting the twisted pair may not make sense, but considering the simplicity of femtocells, T-Mobile’s UMA efforts and even voice over Wi-Fi, the landline might finally be ready to give up the ghost. I confess that I still have two, but am cutting off one outright and once I can port my old number, switching to a service like Toktumi for the second phone.

So I’ve eliminated one line going into my home. But what about broadband? With visions of personalized television dancing in my head, along with music services, gaming and voice, I find it hard to let go of the idea of a fat pipe coming into my home. Streaming HD movies while someone else talks on the phone or transfers files requires a lot of bandwidth. It looks like LTE could do that.

There’s a few discordant notes in this wireless utopia, starting with the carriers. As with their control of mobile networks, ranging from Verizon disabling Bluetooth to today’s efforts to channel people through their own portals, it’s hard to believe they would let themselves become a munificent provider of the cloud. Nope, they’d want to be the gateway to that cloud.

That gateway might be a server that a consumer accesses to get to subscription content or perhaps even the consumer’s own content stored in the cloud, but it would be controlled by the carrier. Another burst of reality in this dream is the time frame. While folks at Ericsson believe LTE is about four years away, it will take time to reach the masses, from both an availability perspective and a cost perspective.

LTE isn’t the only option out there for wireless broadband in the home or office. WiMax is a slower contender, with actual deployments existing and planned. There’s also the existing 3G network, which some people use to provide all of their broadband needs today. But as I sit here with my cable connection, lusting after FiOS, I have to admit that LTE looked pretty sweet.